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Will Orlando Be My Happiest Place on Earth?

This post was sponsored by National Car Rental. All opinions expressed in the post are my own and not those of National Car Rental.

I am a heavy traveler.

I do more than 50 presentations at associations and conferences every year. I also travel for client projects. My in-laws live in the UK so my wife I and travel there a few times a year. And as much as we like going to the Jersey Shore (I live in Philly), we also like to visit other countries.

Because I live in Philly, I’m an American Airlines guy. The Philadelphia airport is one of their hubs and the airline provides me with the most destination choices. I’m an Executive Platinum member, which I believe is the highest status other than Concierge Key, and I have no idea who those people are! I do know that I have close to a million miles spent in the air.

I’m definitely not an irate or difficult traveler. I’m short, so even though American frequently upgrades me, I’m fine sitting in a regular economy seat. I have my laptop, Kindle and Spotify, so I’m happy. Ask me about pretty much any new show to binge on Netflix or Amazon, and I can make a number of recommendations. I’m the same with books and podcasts. Thanks to traveling so frequently with these amazing devices and technologies, I’m pretty much up to speed on all things pop culture.

My only thing with traveling – and you can call it a pet peeve – is speed. I understand that there are delays when you fly. When you think of all the things — from getting the crew to the plane, to the weather, the mechanics and the congestion – that can get in the way of an on-time flight, it’s a miracle that 95% of the time I’m actually on-time or close to it. It’s pretty impressive.

But once at my destination airport I want to go, go, go. I like sitting up front in the aircraft so I can be one of the first off. I don’t want to wait long for transportation or to check in to my hotel. And I specifically don’t want to wait for a rental car, which I frequently use. That’s why I just signed up for National Car Rental’s Emerald Club. To me, it’s all about speed, baby, speed!

My first test will be in a few days at Orlando’s International Airport. This is not an easy test. Orlando’s airport is a busy, crazy, chaotic place with lots of crying, yelling and screaming — mostly by the parents accompanying their children to Disney and Universal! I’m interested to see how organized National Car Rental is there, of all places. I’m curious to see just how quickly I get in and out. Will I get the respect for my time that I so desperately crave? More important, can I get in and out fast?

I know that Emerald Club members are entitled to car upgrades and other perks. That stuff is nice. But believe it or not, it’s not a huge priority for me. In fact, I’ve been known to turn down upgrades to larger SUVs or sedans in the past in lieu of a smaller, zippier car. Once on the road, will it be effortless? I’m driving to the hotel, but after checking in I’m meeting an old friend for dinner. Orlando has a lot of toll roads and traffic. Will my car be equipped?

Being an Emerald Club member means I can book cars through National’s mobile app and get reminders on my phone. Imagine arriving at an airport, avoiding the line at the rental counter, and just jumping into your car! I’m expecting to get there, choose my rental car and be on my way to my destination faster. That’s what I’m hoping for!

To me, it’s just speed. That’s what I’m hoping to enjoy during my first Emerald Club rental in Orlando. I’m hoping that my Emerald Club experience there will truly make Orlando the happiest place on earth…for this business traveler.

Logistics Plays Larger Role in Business Success: What smart businesses are doing

By Gene Marks

It’s almost a miracle that I can ship a product from Philadelphia to Miami and it can get there safely, in one piece and even overnight.  Imagine if my grandfather, a business owner who passed away in the early 1980’s, were to suddenly re-appear today and see this himself. “What kind of magic is this?” I bet he would say. And he’d be right. The complex logistical process that goes on behind the scenes just to get one company’s parts to another company’s warehouse a thousand miles away is truly a kind of magic.

And yet, the Business to Business (B2B) shipping process is still hugely inefficient. As great as today’s logistics companies are, even their senior management will admit that they face challenges tracking packages, fully utilizing shipping space, clearing regulatory hurdles, finding the right people, processing enormous amounts of information and investing in the right systems in order to respond to their customers’ ever-increasing demands.

There is much still to be learned and much progress to be made.  But that progress is happening. The answers to all of this, of course, lies in technology.

“Logistics needs to be more connected into a company’s inventory and order management systems,” says  Chris Grubb, a managing director at UPS told me.  “From there we can create networks that are more efficient, that are more utilized, that don’t require as many assets or can overcome some of the challenges that we might be facing in the future.”

Like many great companies, UPS is investing heavily in technologies and services that will bring together these different processes and improve efficiencies for B2B shipping. One of these investments was recently made in Inxeption a San Francisco based company that has designed the first blockchain-based e-commerce platform for B2B companies – particularly online merchants – that catalogs and digitizes product information.  Businesses who set up e-commerce sites powered by Inxeption technology will now get a product that includes competitive UPS shipping, tracking and logistics solutions built in, making it easier for them to set up an online channel to drive e-commerce sales. Customers, in turn, get the shipping expertise and reliability of UPS.

Grubbs is part of the team that vets different technologies through UPS or identifies partners to provide a seamless, end-to-end shipping experience for its B2B customers. Another venture, Ware2Go, was launched in 2018 to connect small and medium businesses with warehouses and help streamline online orders

“We believe that there are a lot of opportunities for us to insert logistics into the overarching value chain of buy and sell and who to order from and where’s inventory located–all these things that can make that whole process more efficient,” Grubb says. “That’s why it’s important for us to move upstream and really start working with companies like Inxeption (and platforms like Ware2Go) that are really managing the entire end-to-end process, and even beyond that.”

It doesn’t end there. Innovative logistics companies like UPS are continually investing in more technologies that will not only make shipping easier for their customers but also more efficient, faster and – hopefully – less expensive. That’s why, according to UPS Chief Executive Officer David Abney, the company spends more than a billion dollars a year on technology. “We’re using innovation and technology to give our customers more choice, control and convenience,” he recently told the Birmingham Rotary.

In my opinion, too many small businesses spread themselves out too thin among too many freight and transportation providers. The best road to travel is to make the upmost use of the freight company you trust the most. Talk to their salespeople. Follow their corporate activities. Offer your company up to test new technologies. Partner with them as they try out better ways to improve their services. In the end it will all benefit your company

Big companies like UPS will continue to spend billions on their magic: technologies and partnerships with companies like Inxeption – so that they can provide the most efficient and affordable service possible. As a business manager, it’s your job to do your research, stay up to date and take advantage of all that they have to offer.

“What I’m trying to accomplish and what UPS is trying to accomplish in the space is to help our customers sell more,” Grubb told me.

Shouldn’t we let him?

3 Technologies That Help Me Meet My Business Challenges

This post was sponsored by Brother. All opinions are my own.

Running your own small business is rewarding, but as most entrepreneurs will tell you, it also comes with challenges. When I first started my business in the 1990s, I struggled to get started particularly because the technology then was not what it is today. There were no smartphones, computers were bulky with a fraction of the power they have today, internet connectivity was slow, and the list goes on. The significant advances in technology have helped me to address many of the challenges small business owners face every day. Here are three examples.

Communicating with My Employees

The workplace has become significantly more flexible. More people are working remotely or deviating from the standard 9-5 jobs.  My employees are always on the go, with some working from home, some on the road meeting with clients and others located in various parts of the world; needless to say, staying in touch can be challenging. While this can be a struggle for business owners of today, there are plenty of solutions that have helped to alleviate this, like cloud-based applications. For example, we use an office collaboration application to store projects and folders for all our clients – it’s where we save documents, files and other data in a secure but conveniently accessed way. The application can also be used to conduct phone or video calls and communicate internally via instant messaging chats, – with all this information stored in one place. For companies like ours in a networked environment, the application integrates well with our other collaboration and financial applications, ensuring our internal communications are unified.

Staying in Touch with My Customers

Small business owners balance a lot of things each day to keep business moving. Customers are a top priority – and the way to know if a customer is happy is to stay in contact with them. Because we can get so busy, losing a customer or a prospect because they fell through the cracks is a common problem, which is both frustrating and costly. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems help to keep records of all customers, projects, vendors, suppliers and partners, as well as the status of projects. Utilizing these tools has been instrumental in helping us retain our existing customers, while maintaining communication with customer leads. This technology fully integrates with email and calendars to help maintain operations in one centralized place. We have more time to focus on the other aspects of running a small business, while ensuring that we are doing everything we can to keep the lines of communication open with customers, employees and community.

Staying Focused on What Matters

As a small business owner, I have many things to take care of to keep my business running smoothly. The last thing I want to worry about is whether my printer has enough ink. That’s where the Brother INKvestment Tank All-in-One MFC-J995DW comes in. This printer comes fully equipped with up to one year of ink right in the box, and it has an Intelligent Page Gauge feature that monitors your ink usage and displays the estimated remaining page counts on its touchscreen. Now I never have to worry about whether I will run out of ink in the middle of a print job. That translates to more time focusing on my staff, my clients and running my business efficiently and less time worrying about whether or not the next page I print will be the last.

There are always going to be challenges for entrepreneurs and small business owners. – it’s part of the job. But as technology advances and improves, so do our day-to-day operations. As long as we have companies like Brother keeping up with those technologies and putting our needs first, we can continue focusing on growing our business by putting our employees, clients and customers first.

The Big Mistake People Make When Considering Short-Term Loans

I have a client who owns a few coffee shops in the Philadelphia area. Last year, he was presented with a rare opportunity to lease a space near Rittenhouse Square, a prime location in the city. However, his prospective landlord required a significant up-front deposit to secure the space within 24 hours. My client didn’t have that kind of cash on hand. So what did he do? He turned to Kabbage, an automated online lending platform for small businesses. He was approved in time to put down a deposit and win the new location. Within just a couple of months he was able to pay back the loan—which saved him even more since Kabbage doesn’t charge pre-payment fees. Business, not surprisingly given his central location, has been booming.

This is an example of a client who understands the purpose of a short-term loan. Sometimes I meet business owners who don’t. It’s a mistake. Read More…

There’s A Big Reason Why the Recruitment Services and Careers Industry Is So Big – Do You Know Why?

When people ask me – and they often do – what is the single mostimportant lesson I’ve learned from running a business over the past two decades I have a very quick answer: I outsource.

I outsource my payroll. I outsource my accounting. I outsource my technology support, my marketing services and my accounts receivable collections. I pay others to host my website, my phone system, my files and my applications. I do this because I’ve learned from many other and smarter, successful and long-time business owners who have also learned this important lesson: the more they focus on what they do – and let outside experts focus on what they do – the better their business will be.

Which brings me to recruiting new employees for my firm. This, I’ve learned, is yet another expertise.

Go ahead, try to do it yourself. Advertise on a job search site. Assuming you’re competent enough to even write up a decent job solicitation (I’m not) then get ready to deal with the resumes that come in. Now, review those resumes and tell me: can you really figure out who are the good candidates? I know I can’t. Next, take a stab at a few prospects and bring them in for interviews. Are you so good at interviewing that you can determine whether or not a person is truly capable of doing the job? I know I’m not.

Finding people – particularly in these times of low unemployment and fierce competition from bigger firms that are likely offering better benefits – is a huge challenge. Evaluating them and ultimately deciding on a new person is an enormous gamble. And making the wrong decision? For a ten-person company like mine, it can be a costly mistake and oftentimes very disruptive. Trust me – I’ve been there.

So I outsource recruitment, just like I outsource so many other things. I’m an expert at helping clients with the customer relationship management applications my firm sells and implements. I’m pretty good at giving financial advice too.  But I’m definitely not an expert at recruiting, no more than I’m an expert at payroll or phone systems.

Good recruiters demonstrate their expertise by doing things a typical business owner like me cannot. They have a database and likely job prospects that can be matched to your needs based on a number of criteria. They have the internal skills to recognize specific people in their community that would be most appropriate for the job you’ve offered. They have the infrastructure and procedures in place to put those candidates through the necessary and proper due diligence before you’ve even met them. They also have the skills to coach and counsel their clients through the interview and employment process, ensuring that you’re asking the right questions and able to identify the best answers.

More importantly, a good recruiter will do for you what all good experts in their field do: save you time and likely get you a better result than you could do on your own…and faster. Lucas Group’s recruiters, for example, serve as a seamless, complementary HR partner. They deliver professionals that help navigate the complex maze of today’s business landscape with skill, knowledge, and insight. “We aim to set the bar high within the recruiting industry by exceeding industry standards,” Scott Smith, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer says, by “providing innovative business practices and delivering the most in-demand leaders to propel businesses forward.”

Of course there’s a cost. But like every other cost in your business you have to evaluate the return on investment. And there are two easy ways to do this. For starters, whatever a recruiter charges your job is to determine whether that new and qualified employee who’s been specially chosen will return that cost in multiples through the additional revenues and/or profit that employee generates for your company. Also, if you add up all the hours you would need to spend finding that right person – assuming you’re even able to do that – what is the cost to your firm not only for your compensation but for the lost opportunity time you could’ve been spending getting more customers or just running your business?

The recruitment services and careers industry is predicted to be a $153 billion industry next year. There’s a reason for this: smart employers know that these firms provide a valuable service. It’s not just about recruiting people. It’s about letting experts do what they do best so that you can do what you do best. Follow that model – whether it’s recruiting, bookkeeping or marketing – and you’re likely to succeed with your business too.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Lucas Group. The opinions and text are all mine.